||2001.01.25 - 01.30
Djemaa El-Fna and Atlas
The train coming from
Tangier in the north makes its last stop in Marrakech after passing
through Rabat and Casablanca. Moroccan trains are smooth and
comfortable, better than those in Spain and Portugal. Casablanca to
Marrakech cost 73 DH (2nd class) and took about 4 hours.
Before arriving to
Marrakech, an American we met in Casablanca advised us to stay in the
Medina near Djemaa El-Fna, where all the night activity takes place.
From the train station, cross the road and take Bus 8 (3 DH) to its last
stop near Djemaa El-Fna. Taxi drivers swarming the train station try to
convince newly arrived tourists that 1) the bus doesn't run any longer
or 2) the bus charges 6 or more DH so for 2 people a taxi fare of 15 DH
is more comfortable and better. We made it to Djemaa El-Fna on Bus 8
The Medina is filled with
low budget hotels. People loitering the street try to direct new
arrivals carrying luggage to this hotel or that hotel. It's best to
select a hotel from a guidebook with a map and insist you know where
you're going. If you aren't sure which direction to walk, go to a cafe
or restaurant and ask within. Looking lost on the street while carrying
luggage is a sure way to attract "guides" - they'll demand a
fee for directing you to their friend's hotel. Once settled in a hotel,
Marrakech gets more enjoyable.
At dusk, Djemaa El-Fna, an
outdoor space, grows lively with acrobats, dancers, food stalls, orange
juice stands, drummers, and lots of loiterers. Keep your valuables
tucked under your clothes, especially if you stop in the surrounding
crowd to observe the dancing or snake charmers. At no time did we feel
unsafe, but some loiterers mill through the crowds looking for
easy targets. In Djemaa El-Fna, we watched hooded men dresses in gilabas
and thought of Star Wars. Many food stalls were good and cheap, but we
only ate at those with lots of locals that had prices clearly posted.
Many tourists, unfortunately, are seriously overcharged at some of the
stalls. The key is to order things that have published prices and return
dishes served to you that you didn't order.
The most reliable tour
operator in Marrakech is Hôtel Ali at rue Moulay Ismael (Tel:
044-444979, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org),
50 meters from Djamaa El-Fna, in the Medina. They
do mountain treks in the High Atlas and sight-seeing tours to the
desert in Merzouga. We arranged a 3-day guided trek through Hôtel Ali
for 1100 DH per person including transportation, food, and lodging (more
below). The price per person for a 3-day tour to Merzouga with stops at
various highlights along the way is dependent on the number of people
going that day: 2~3 people = 1250 DH, 4~6 people = 1100 DH, 7~9 people =
950 DH (maximum 9). We followed a similar route as this tour (albeit
at a much slower pace) and recorded our costs to compare.
tour to Merzouga with Hôtel Ali (per person)
and Masami's Costs (per person)
|| 1250 DH
to Ouarzazate by bus
|| 55 DH
|| 1100 DH
to Aït Benhaddou round trip by grand taxi
|| 60 DH
|| 950 DH
to Boumalne by bus
|| 25 DH
to Dadès Gorge round trip by grand taxi
|| 25 DH
|Boumalne to Tinerhir by bus
to Todra Gorge by grand taxi
|| 5 DH
|| 30 DH
|Todra Gorge to Merzouga by hotel manager's friend's car
|| 52.50 DH
ride / tent in the Sahara
|| 300 DH
|Return to Marrakech (estimate)
|| 140 DH
|Food for 3 days (estimate)
|| 200 DH
|| 910 DH
- Transport schedules beyond Ouarzazate are unpredictable.
- In addition to the published fare, buses insist that
tourists pay a 5 DH luggage fee per bag stored in the hatch (this 5
DH fee is included in the prices above, but can be avoided if you
- Similar tours to Merzouga from Ouarzazate, Tinerhir,
and Erfoud cost about the same as from Marrakech, although we
expected them to reduce as we got closer to Merzouga. Some
of the biggest rip-offs are from Erfoud located only 50km north of
Merzouga. The Osaka Japanese Restaurant in Erfourd, for instance,
targets naive Japanese and charges 4000 DH for the same 24hr camel tour
offered in Merzouga at Auberge Soleil Bleu for 500 DH.
Conclusion: If you're
short on time and want to see kasbahs, gorges, and the Sahara Desert,
the 3-day tour by Hôtel Ali is an excellent value. If you have 5 or more
days, travel on your own is a better value and gives you the flexibility
to stay/eat where you want for as long as you want - despite the fact
that Hôtel Ali will try to convince you that going on your own is
very very difficult.
Of the 3 Internet
Cafés in the Medina of Marrakech, only 1, Atlas Cyber, has working
floppy drives and connects to other computers by telnet or ftp. The
prices at all 3 are the same. Atlas Cyber is at rue Bani Marine
Kissariat Essanabil No 18. Hassan Habibi who founded Atlas Cyber
is also a certified mountain trekking guide.
Marrakech viewed from the rooftop of Hôtel Afriquia. Marrakech is known
at the red city from the red color of the exterior building walls.
of Hotel Afriquia is completely tiled. Orange trees grow in the atrium.
Were it not for the bed bugs in some of the rooms...
perform at Djemaa El-Fna. This market square gets even livelier at dark.
On our first night, we ate here for about US$1 per person.
Atlas Mountain Trek
Through Hôtel Ali in
Marrakech, we arranged a private 3-day guided mountain trek in the High
Atlas Mountains. We found 3 price points for 3-days treks for 2 people:
750 DH / person led by "a friend" of the hotel receptionist
at Hôtel Afriquia, 1100 DH / person led by Berber guides through
Hôtel Ali, and 1400 DH / person led by certified mountain guides through
Atlas Cyber (Internet Café). The "friend" of Hôtel
Afriquia missed his meeting time with us - we waited an extra 2 hours
and gave up. A guide who can't keep his business appointment can't be
trusted, we decided. Tours by Hôtel Ali are trustworthy according to the
Lonely Planet guide and a Moroccan we met who lives in Japan. The trek
by Atlas Cyber stretched our budget. We departed Marrakech for the
mountains the next morning.
From Marrakech, we rode a
shared taxi south to Asni (about 50km) where we transferred to a rickety
truck carrying locals up a dirt road to Imlil (about 25km). Two guides
accompanied us the entire
way. A 20 minute walk from Imlil took us to a smaller village called Aroumd.
At the guide's parent's house in Aroumd,
we ate lunch on the roof, dinner in the guest room, and stayed the night. We
weren't expecting the village to have facilities, but they had running water,
electricity, and satellite TV. Our Lonely Planet guide printed in Jan 1998
says, "electricity is expected to reach Imlil in the near future"
- lights in Aroumd must be very recent.
The next morning, our food
and blankets were loaded onto a mule led by the another guide. Together with
a cook, the 4 of us plus mule walked
for the next day and a half through Berber villages.
In the shared taxi from
Marrakech, we met Mike and Reisa. With an Atlas Mountain guidebook and
camping supplies, they had no trouble hiking to the top of Jebel Toubkal
unguided. Now that we know that hiking trails in the Atlas are clearly
visible and that lodging in Berber villages can easily be found, we'll
hike on our own and save the guide fee if we return to Morocco in the
line the Atlas foothills in Asni Valley. Transport over dirt roads into
the mountain villages is limited to the occasional truck. Villagers
waiting by the roadside hold out their hand to flag the truck, hop in
the back, and hold on tight.
Morocco's highest peak (4167 meters), viewed from the Berber mountain
||Mules in Aroumd
daughter wishes him a good hike and safe return.
||A Berber family
prepares our dinner over a wood-burning fire. Although our guestroom had
electricity, the family kitchen didn't.
||The village of
Tacheddirt that we reached on our 2nd day.
Copyright © 2000-2002 Wes and Masami Heiser. All rights reserved.